AJAX for SEO Considered Harmful

Here at Oneupweb, our development team has been playing around with AJAX development on some of our internal web sites.

Now, to help alleviate any confusion, in this context AJAX is different from Ajax™ the cleaning product. Here, AJAX stands for “Asyncronous Javascript And XmlHTTPRequest”, which is a somewhat young web development technology that allows the construction of highly interactive websites that can help to reduce server load.

Some of the more common uses of AJAX in websites include:

  • A product search box that retrieves matching products from the webserver as the customer is still typing in the box, generally updating a list in the page, allowing the customer to navigate directly to the product page, rather than loading the search results page first.
  • Retrieving customer product reviews from the server after the user clicks a link on the product page, then displaying those reviews in the same page. This saves on the bandwidth of sending all those reviews along with every request regardless of whether the user wants to read them. Then when the reviews are requested, the only data sent from the server, are the reviews themselves – the rest of the page layout doesn’t need to be retransmitted.
  • Fully interactive sites, such as Google’s maps, which give large amounts of control to the user, but retrieve all their data in small chunks, and rarely require full page reloads.

If used incorrectly, AJAX techniques can actually hinder a search spider’s ability to find indexable information on web pages. AJAX’s problems lie in its powerful capability to use javascript to pull data from the server as needed.

Unlike browsers, search engine spiders don’t speak javascript. As such, if the data isn’t in the page then the spider won’t index it. This means that if you are loading your product reviews using AJAX, then even though your customers will see “cool widget” in your page, searches for “cool widget” in the engines won’t lead to your pages, and you’ll lose in the SERPs.

So, how can you use AJAX to offer your customers a more engrossing interactive experience, and not lose your vital search engine positions?

Well, just like moderation can fit chocolate cake into your diet, so too can it allow your site to use AJAX. The key here is to relegate your AJAX tools to a more of a support role. Unfortunately, this means that using AJAX to load product reviews and other data you want spiders to index should generally be avoided.

Fortunately, search spiders don’t use search boxes, and additional intelligence embedded into most product searches can provide a rewarding experience for your customers.